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repetitive vs. repetitious

I consider myself fairly intelligent, but I do not know when to use “repetitive” as opposed to ‘repetitious.” A friend suggested a person can be described as being “repetitious” where something like an activity would be “repetitive,” as in “repetitive stress injury.” However, these are the kinds of questions I think of, and I was wondering if someone can clarify that for me. Thank you in advance!

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I think they mean the same thing. The OED says of "repetitive": "Characterized by, or of the nature of, repetition; tedious, repetitious."

goofy July 21, 2012, 5:07am

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From what I understand "repetitious" has a negative connotation.

For example.

Repetitious writing on the ceiling.
- Repeating and tedious writing on the ceiling.

Repetitive writing on the ceiling.
- You just writing on the ceiling repeatedly. You might love it or hate it. It just something that you do/happens.

Ben22 July 31, 2012, 9:14pm

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What do the words "refurbish," "retrace" and "retype" have in common? They are all introduced by the prefix, re-. Whether you are refurbishing something, retracing something or repeating something, you are doing something again. The differences between "repetitious" and "repetitive" are slight, but, as Ben22 stated, "repetitious" includes a more negative connotation than "repetitive." They are the same in the way that the two words share the same prefix: re-. This, by definition, simply means, "again."

joelackey92 September 24, 2012, 6:38am

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My dictionary agrees with you that repetitious has a mainly negative connotation. But in some contexts so can repetitive. If you say your job or some music is repetitive, I think that's pretty negative too - it suggests a certain monotony. To me the difference seems to be mainly a matter of collocation - a long and repetitious speech but a repetitive job etc.

What does seem clear though, is that repetitive is used far more than repetitious, as this Ngram graph shows -

And in Google Books, repetitive gets over five million hits, as oppose to less than a million for repetitious.

Warsaw Will September 25, 2012, 11:08am

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If a story contains the same words 5 times, the story is repetitious and the word is repetitive.

Shirley Senefeld November 20, 2013, 4:16pm

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Yes     No